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John Bergstrom on EVs, OEM relations, building an outstanding company culture, and more

What do you get when you combine world-class company culture with 39 new car dealerships? Well, you end up with a remarkable dealer group that drives exceptional experiences for their customers and prioritizes philanthropic initiatives that extend far and wide. We’re, of course, talking about Bergstrom Automotive.

On this edition of The Executive Profile, host Jim Fitzpatrick recently had the opportunity to spend the day with John Bergstrom, Chairman of Bergstrom Automotive, at their headquarters in Neenah, Wisconsin.

A staple in the Green Bay community, Bergstrom Automotive was founded by John and his brother Richard Bergstrom. The business is now Wisconsin’s #1 dealership group and one of the largest, privately-held automotive retailers in the country with 39 stores representing over 30 brands. Aside from retail automotive, Bergstrom might be best known for its extraordinary support of major community efforts, including Make-A-Wish Wisconsin, United Way, and Drive for a Cure.

Key takeaways:

1. Bergstrom learned early on from his mother that outstanding customer service is paramount in business. Her influence laid the foundation for the way the dealer group treats its customers with sincere care.

2. After opening a bar with his brother Richard, Bergstrom decided to pursue the retail automotive business, but quickly realized it might not be as straightforward as he thought. After personally petitioning then Chairman of General Motors of Roger Smith, Bergstrom was denied a GM store. However, upon realizing that the Chairman’s office was reviewing Bergstrom’s application, GAMC’s Milwaukee office decided to approve his request to become a certified GM dealer. The office’s mistake ended up working out very well for Bergstrom.

3. Bergstrom Automotive now has 39 stores and employees over 2,500 associates. For the last five years in a row, the group has been named one of the top three best places to work. Bergstrom credits those accomplishments to his associates and their teamwork.

4. Part of Bergstrom’s culture of caring stems from an unusual philosophy, which is that 25% of profits will be given back to the community. From the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the Boys and Girls Club, Bergstrom is able to make a significant impact, especially for children in need.

5. From Bergstrom’s perspective, the best guests that are going to buy cars from your dealership, are the ones you help on Saturday night when their kid can’t get back to school. While Bergstrom has strong relationships with the OEMs they represent, he doesn’t see any manufacturer that has a workforce that will take those calls.

6. Regarding EVs, Bergstrom has been on the board of Wisconsin Energy for over 30 years. One of Wisconsin’s primary sources of generating electricity is burning coal. So, coal, in part, is powering the charging capabilities of EVs in the state. “You’re just thinking, how does this work?” says Bergstrom.

7. This past August, Bergstrom agreed to acquire five Wisconsin stores and has no plans to sell the group any time soon. He expresses his love for the retail automotive industry and still desires to grow and expand the group.

8. Bergstrom has received many accolades for his success in business, including his induction into the Wisconsin Business Hall of Fame and an honorary doctorate degree from Lawrence University.

"The best relationships you get, the best guests that are going to buy cars from you year-over-year, are the ones you help on Saturday night when they're kid can't get back to school. So, I don't see a manufacturer that has a workforce that's going to answer that phone." - John Bergstrom

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Anna Delvillar
Anna Delvillar
Anna is the editorial and programming coordinator at CBT News. She graduated with a B.A. in English Composition from Georgia State University. She is an enthusiastic and skilled media professional with high-caliber communication skills, and has five years of experience performing multimedia writing, editing, and publishing for automotive, tech, and small business media.

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